11 Best Winter Snow and Ice Festivals in Japan (2023 Edition)

As the chill of winter descends upon Japan, the country transforms into a winter wonderland, adorned with glittering snow and illuminated by the warm glow of festive lights. For those seeking a unique and magical experience, Japan's winter festivals offer a captivating blend of tradition and spectacle. From the iconic Sapporo Snow Festival to the charming Ouchijuku Snow Festival, each event promises a celebration of winter's beauty and the strong spirit of the Japanese people.

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1. Sapporo Snow Festival: A Frosty Extravaganza

Kickstarting our frosty journey in the northern island of Hokkaido, Sapporo welcomes winter with open arms by hosting one of the most iconic winter festivals on the planet – the Sapporo Snow Festival. With a history of more than 70 years, the festival transforms the city into a canvas for mesmerizing icy art, drawing millions of visitors from around the globe.

The festival's pièce de résistance is the awe-inspiring snow sculptures that grace Odori Park and Susukino. Local and international artists sculpt colossal masterpieces, ranging from intricate replicas of famous landmarks to whimsical characters that come to life under the winter sun. Strolling through these snow-carved wonders feels like entering a magical realm, where creativity knows no bounds.

But the Sapporo Snow Festival is not just about static sculptures. The festival pulsates with life as various events and activities unfold. Visitors can marvel at the spectacle of beautifully illuminated ice sculptures in the evenings, witness concerts and projection mapping events, and indulge in the diverse culinary offerings of Hokkaido.

Not sure how to spend your time once you are done admiring the magnificent snowy masterpieces? Check out this guide to Sapporo, Japan’s northernmost prefectural capital for more inspiration.

Enjoy the Sapporo Snow Festival Even More With a Stay at ONSEN RYOKAN Yuen Sapporo

A fusion of traditional Japanese hospitality and modern comfort, ONSEN RYOKAN Yuen Sapporo captivates visitors with its tranquil “onsen” (hot spring) baths, providing a soothing respite from the winter festivities. The ryokan's proximity to the festival grounds ensures easy access to the iconic snow sculptures and vibrant events - an ideal haven for those seeking an enchanting escape during the festival.

2. Chitose - Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival: Where Winter Dreams Come Alive

Escape to the enchanting world of Lake Shikotsu, a crater lake boasting some of clearest water in all of Japan. In winter, snow sculptures are created by spraying and freezing this pristine water, resulting in unusual structures also known as ”hyoto” (ice pillars) in Japanese.

Every evening, these otherworldly-looking ice formations are lit up with multicolored lights against the serene backdrop of Lake Shikotsu, beckoning visitors with their ethereal beauty. Take a leisurely stroll along the festival grounds to marvel at the creativity on display and warm up with a hot drink or local delicacy.

Beyond the visual feast, Lake Shikotsu offers a range of winter activities to engage in. From ice skating, ice slides and horse rides to fireworks and “taiko” drum performances, the festival provides entertainment and fun for all.

Once you have had enough of all the snow and ice, retreat to one of the town’s many hot spring bath houses and feel your body getting warmed to the core.

3. Otaru Snow Light Path Festival: Illuminating Winter Nights with Nostalgia

Step into a scene straight out of a winter fairytale with the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, a magical celebration of light and snow in the charming coastal town of Otaru. Held annually in early February to coincide with the famous Sapporo Snow Festival, this enchanting event turns the town into a luminous wonderland, captivating the hearts of locals and visitors alike.

Picture snow-covered streets adorned with thousands of delicate snow lanterns, casting a soft, warm glow. Stroll along the picturesque canal, where handmade snow lanterns line the water's edge, creating a romantic ambiance that is both captivating and serene. The flickering flames of the unique glass-blown candles floating on the water is a fascinating sight.

Visitors can also indulge in local culinary delights amidst the glittering snowflakes, such as Hokkaido’s outstandingly fresh and tasty seafood.

Enjoy the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival Eevn More With a Stay at Hotel Sonia Otaru

The charming Hotel Sonia Otaru seamlessly blends modern comforts with the allure of traditional Japanese aesthetics and provides a perfect haven during the annual Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. As the festival illuminates the scenic canals and pathways with a myriad of lights, Hotel Sonia offers a warm retreat with its cozy rooms and hot springs baths with panoramic views of the historic surroundings.

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4. Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival: A Radiant Winter Spectacle

Hirosaki is famous for its sublime cherry blossoms in spring, but come winter, the city hosts an equally mesmerizing seasonal event. Here, in the heart of Aomori Prefecture, you can immerse yourself in the enchanting beauty of the Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival, one of Japan’s best snow festivals. The event transforms the historic Hirosaki Castle grounds into a stunning winter display, where the soft glow of countless snow lanterns illuminates the night.

As twilight descends, the castle's majestic silhouette serves as a backdrop to a sea of delicate snow lanterns, casting a serene and magical atmosphere. Local artisans skillfully carve these lanterns, striving to bring joy to locals and visitors during the harsh winter months, and the main area features impressive designs molded after historical architecture. Stroll along the lantern-lit paths and enjoy the sight of countless mini-kamakura: tiny candle-lit igloos made from snow surrounding the Hasu Pond.

During the festival there will also be opportunities to enjoy local cuisine, large snow slides as well as fireworks displays, which are otherwise usually reserved for summer festivals in Japan. A few pieces from Hirosaki’s most popular summer event - Neputa - are also on display, providing a rare opportunity to enjoy these outside the official Neputa celebrations.


5. Aizu Painted Candle Festival: Illuminating Winter with Artistry

The castle town of Aizu-Wakamatsu has a long history of crafting painted candles. During the Edo period, these intricately decorated candles were gifted to feudal lords and other nobility, as well as being used for offerings at temples and shrines. Everything related to this traditional craft is done by hand, including the making of the wicks and decorating the candles with designs that often features seasonal flowers such as chrysanthemums and peonies.

 Held in February, the Aizu Painted Candle Festival celebrates the city’s unique candle traditions and casts a warm light on the winter nights of Fukushima Prefecture.

The festival's focal point is the intricate hand-painted candles that adorn the streets of Aizu-Wakamatsu, turning the town into an open-air gallery of flickering pieces of art. The festivities are centered around the city’s impressive Tsuruga Castle and Oyakuen, a traditional Japanese-style garden. The snow-covered castle serves as a majestic backdrop for the atmospheric event and is sure to leave a lasting memory.

Enjoy the Aizu Painted Candle Festival Even More With a Stay at Hotel Tagoto

Located within walking distance from the main station and historic district, Hotel Tagoto provides an ideal base for exploring the city during the Aizu Painted Candle Festival. This charming accommodation offers a traditional Japanese ryokan experience, complete with soothing hot baths that can be reserved for private use to warm you up after an eventful day and evening at the festival grounds. With both Western-style and Japanese-style rooms available, this “ryokan” (traditional Japanese inn) especially prides itself in its delicious “kaiseki” multi-course cuisine.

6. Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival: Cozy Winter Nights in Rural Japan

Located in Akita Prefecture, the city of Yokote sees one of the heaviest snowfalls in all of Japan and naturally hosts one of the Five Big Snow Festivals of Tohoku: the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival.

With a history of around 450 years, this unique festival is dedicated to the water deity and sees hundreds of “kamakura” (snow huts) being constructed all over the city, each housing a miniature snow altar lit by candles.

Local children will invite passersby into the snow huts and visitors will be expected to offer their prayers to the water deity before sitting down to share “amazake” (sweet, fermented rice drink) and grilled “mochi” (rice cakes) with locals and other festival goers.

The festival's blend of cultural authenticity and community spirit creates an atmosphere of hospitality and camaraderie, making it a truly unique and heartwarming experience for those seeking an immersive winter journey in Japan.

7. Zao Snow Monster Festival: Where Nature Unleashes its Frozen Spectacle

Venture to the mystical realm of Mount Zao in Yamagata Prefecture, where the annual Zao Snow Monster Festival brings to life a winter spectacle like no other. Embracing the natural wonders of the region, this festival showcases the so-called "snow monsters" – trees cloaked in thick layers of snow, transforming into otherworldly creatures.

The monsters are a result of a unique natural phenomenon, where a combination of frost, snow and bone-chilling Siberian winds turn the fir trees on Mount Zao into surreal-looking natural statues. The area is one of the only places in the world to experience this special weather event, and the monsters are best enjoyed from the slopes as you zig zag down the mountain on skis or snowboard. Zao offers outstanding snow conditions, great “onsen” and some wonderful accommodation options, making it an ideal destination for an off-the-beaten-track ski trip.

During the Zao Snow Monster Festival, the frozen giants are lit up in various hues at night, creating a surreal landscape that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. For those who prefer a more relaxed experience, the monsters can also be viewed by taking the ropeway up the mountain.

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8. Icicles of Misotsuchi: A Glittering Display of Winter Elegance

In the serene landscapes of Saitama Prefecture, the icicles of Misotsuchi emerge as a testament to the breathtaking beauty that winter can unfold. The tranquil region of Chichibu is home to three famous icicle spots in winter, but only the one at Misotsuchi occurs as the result of a natural phenomenon.

The dazzling icicles are created from the main stream of Arakawa River, gradually growing as the temperatures drop. Reaching up to 30 meters in width and 8 meters in height, these icy structures captivate visitors with their majestic appearance.

The enchanting spectacle can only be enjoyed for a short time from January to late February. In the evenings, the icicles are lit up by multi-coloured lights, creating a warm and romantic atmosphere in this rural corner not far from Tokyo.

9. Tsunan Snow Festival: A Symphony of Snow Activities and Lights in the Sky

Situated in the picturesque Niigata Prefecture, the city of Tsunan sees one of the world’s heaviest snowfalls. The tradition of the Tsunan Snow Festival was launched in 1974 as an initiative to provide some joy and entertainment to the local residents to get through these harsh winters.

During the festival, visitors can try snowmobile rides, enjoy treasure hunts in the snow and witness Snow Wave, a snowboarding straight jump competition. The festival also features snow lanterns and a market selling local bites and delicacies, and with stage performances by local bands, there will be no lack of entertainment.

The highlight of the Tsunan Snow Festival is the release of thousands of sky lanterns into the starry night skies, and many people travel from all over Japan just to witness this mesmerizing event, which is usually accompanied by a breathtaking display of fireworks.

10. Matsumoto Ice Sculpture Festival: Witness Ice Sculptors at Work

Every year, ice artists from Japan and abroad gather in the historic castle town of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture to show off their skills at the fascinating Matsumoto Ice Sculpture Festival. Over the course of a weekend, fantastical ice creations are carved out and put on display against the stunning backdrop of the Japanese Alps and the dramatic black Matsumoto Castle.

On Friday, young ice artists with less than five years of experience are given center stage while Japan’s most noticeable sculptors compete in the “All Japan Ice Sculpture Competition Championship” from Saturday to Sunday. Working tirelessly on 15 blocks of ice throughout the night, their creations are put on display early Sunday morning for visitors to enjoy for the rest of the day. 

The entire ice-sculpting process can be witnessed up-close, and the finished ice sculptures are beautifully illuminated. Wandering through the gorgeous displays of icy art is a very special experience, and music performances and stalls selling hot drinks and snacks will make sure you stay warm and entertained throughout the festival.

11. Ouchijuku Snow Festival: Time-Travel to Winter Nostalgia

Concluding our list of Japanese snow and ice festivals is the Ouchijuku Snow Festival, which takes place in the charming Edo-era village of Ouchijuku in the heart of Fukushima Prefecture. Originally functioning as a post town for travelers to rest, Ouchijuku is home to a handful of traditional houses, which have been beautifully restored. Everything, from the steep angle of the thatched roofs to the cozy “irori” hearths inside, serve to make sure the houses and their residents would get through the snowy winters safely and comfortably.

 As the village streets become blanketed in snow, Ouchijuku transforms into a captivating winter wonderland, beckoning travelers to step back in time by entering this living postcard.

The Ouchijuku Snow Festival boasts an array of activities, from traditional performances to local delicacies served in charming snow-covered stalls. Take part in age-old customs, like pounding rice cakes, witnessing “taiko” drumming or warming up with regional sake, as the village comes alive with wintery celebrations. Entertaining competitions in period costumes, noodle-eating or wood-sawing also take place during the festival, and on Saturday night the sparkle of glittering fireworks cast its glow over the snow-covered village for a picture-perfect spectacle.


Visit Japan's Best Snow and Ice Festivals This Winter

Japan's winter festivals are not just events; they are enchanting experiences that showcase the country's rich cultural heritage and the resilience of its people in the face of winter's embrace of snow and ice. Whether you're marveling at colossal snow sculptures, strolling through candle lit streets, or sipping warm sake in a snow hut, these festivals promise unforgettable memories in a winter wonderland like no other. So, bundle up and immerse yourself in the magic of Japan's 11 best winter festivities – a truly unique way to embrace the chill.

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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About the author

Maya V.
Maya grew up in Copenhagen and first visited Japan in 2012, which led to many more trips over the years before she moved to Tokyo in 2020. Travel is her passion, and she has stayed overnight in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures at least once. Maya loves hiking and going to Japanese festivals, but one thing will make her travel farther than anything else: the many cute, stylish, or themed special trains running along Japan’s scenic coastline and traversing its scenic countryside.
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